Emerging from the Pandemic – The Prevalence of Paradox

Emerging from the Pandemic – The Prevalence of Paradox

I’ve shared here before that I went to college in the Midwest; long, cold, snowy winters. When the crocuses began poking up through the snow, it was such a welcome herald of springtime coming – soon? – to those of us who were winter-weary.

Everyone is weary beyond words from the ongoing pandemic. The accelerated rollout of the vaccines is a welcome herald of achieving herd immunity and emerging from the pandemic – soon? And yet with so many refusing to wear masks, refusing to get vaccinated for the common good, the world doesn’t feel safe yet.  A paradox.

“Self-contradictory” is the essence of Merriam-Webster’s definition of paradox, and paradox is rife as we find out way out of shutdown-sheltering-hunkering into tentative connections, gatherings, celebrations and hugs again. 

I’m reminded of the cautionary tale – that after years of being caged in a small enclosure, one zoo’s tiger, even after the zoo opened the cage to access large, open fields to roam in, the tiger stayed circling within his accustomed 10 x 12 enclosure, not feeling safe in his suddenly larger world. 

We may not feel safe yet in our gradually larger world either.  Reclaiming what was once normal, or re-inventing a new normal, may be one of the biggest challenges of surviving the pandemic, and it will be full of paradoxes.

Paradox IS the human condition. – Brene Brown

An essential practice for navigating paradoxes is becoming more and more comfortable with “both/and” rather than “either/or.”  Holding both gratitude for being alive and healthy, looking forward to re-connecting with loved ones, and deep grief for people we have lost in the past year, connections severed or strained. 

Both relief in restaurants and small businesses re-opening and regret that so many have been lost forever. 

Both hope for more justice and equity across racial/gender/class and heartache that we still have so far to go in those arenas.

My friend Eleanor shared with me her own poignant example of paradox: her six-year-old son raced into the kitchen, joyfully presenting her with flowers he had picked fresh from the garden, innocently oblivious of the globs of mud he had also tracked onto the freshly mopped kitchen floor. Her paradox –both delight and dismay.

Expanding our perspectives to hold more both/and is an essential part of our resilience, and a daily practice.

Exercise to Expand Both/And

1. Identify any event or circumstance that is causing contraction or smallifying, from the pandemic directly or from life in general – you’re tearing your hair out living with your favorite people in the entire world 24/7 non-stop for a full year (or you’re lonely from being completely isolated from your favorite people in the entire world for a full year); you’re chagrined from gaining weight eating so much comfort food during COVID, you’re reluctant to return to work in a maybe not yet safe in-person environment.

2.  Identify the contradiction or paradox inherent in these circumstances – too much closeness with the people you want to feel closest to, or too much solitude when you need time for yourself for your well-being, too.  The comfort essential to self-care when enduring difficulties can contradict other needs for self-care. You will have to navigate feeling safe around other people again, even if you could take that for granted before.

3.  Identify how you could expand your thinking to hold the both/and of these contradictory realities: You love your loved ones and you find the time you need for solitude, reflection, respite; both are true.  You treasure your alone time as best as you can and you reach out to others again and again to keep you company, even virtually. Both are true.  You offer yourself self-compassion for the self-care you’ve given yourself in comfort food, and resume your walking the neighborhood and virtual fitness/yoga classes. Both are true.  You negotiate health/safety concerns with your bosses and co-workers and you set the boundaries you need to protect your health and the health of our family. Both are true. 

4. Notice, claim, and continue the practice of expanding into both/and. 

To paraphrase Theodore Rubin:

The problem is not that there are problems [paradoxes].  The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems [paradoxes] is a problem.

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